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Ayer Shirley Regional High School fields dedicated to legacy of Harold G. Norton

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. From left, Colby Weeks, 5, Callan Bresnahan, 5, and his sister Teaghan Bresnahan, 9, all of Ayer, play on the fence. The new press box is dedicated to the Bresnahans’ late grandfather Paul Bresnahan, a former town official who died last year. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. Ayer-Shirley High senior Jack Hillman of Ayer, a member of the unified sports team, cuts the ribbon, with help from sophomore Maleah Figueroa of Ayer. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. Ayer-Shirley High senior Jack Hillman of Ayer, a member of the unified sports team, gets a high five from former superintendent Dr. Mary Malone, left, after cutting the ribbon with help from sophomore Maleah Figueroa of Ayer, second from left. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. From left, Rob Norton (Class of ’61) of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, son of the late Harold G. Norton; Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Adam Renda, and ?? [had to leave before getting name]. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. School Committee member Jim Quinty of Shirley, left, and Rob Norton (Class of ’61) of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, son of the late Harold G. Norton. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. From left, Middle School student Matthew Bowolick, 13, and his grandmother Joanna Gardner, both of Ayer, and Susan Parker of Shirley, whose husband is a former principal. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. From left, P.J. Dolan of Belmont (Ayer High Class of ’82), Betty Quigley of Fryeburg, Maine, former teachers Donna and husband Ed (Class of ’62) Cornellier of Ayer, and Quigley’s husband Tom Quigley ’61. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. New concession stand was part of the project. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic...

    Oct 14, 2022 – Dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. Crowd stand for the national anthem. In foreground are Lucille DaCosta (Class of ’71), left, and Faye Pettiway (Class of ’73), right, of Fitchburg. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

  • Oct 14, 2022 – Plaque for dedication of Harold G....

    Oct 14, 2022 – Plaque for dedication of Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School. Norton was a former superintendent of schools. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

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The new Ayer Shirley Regional High School athletic field complex — unveiled in all its long-awaited glory at a combined dedication and donor recognition and ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday evening, Oct. 14 — caps a two-phase process that began with a major high school renovation and addition project that transformed an outdated old building into a state-of-the art high school.

Now, the campus makeover is complete, inside and out, with a handsome new athletic facility in place. But it didn’t happen overnight. As more than one of the speakers pointed out, it took years of work by a lot of people to make this dream come true.

At the recent event, the Ayer Shirley Regional School District community celebrated the milestone and those who made it happen.

Speakers included High School Principal Spencer Christie and ASRSD Superintendent Adam Renda, Ayer and Shirley Select Board chairs Jannice Livingston and Bryan Sawyer, School Committee Chairman Joyce Reischutz, Athletic Director Stephen Kendall, student Sam Oestreicher and honorary speaker Robert Norton.

There were plenty of thanks to go around, with shout outs to all the “patient” coaches and players who practiced elsewhere last year, while major construction was going on.

The thank you list included the Fields Committee, headed by former Superintendent Mary Malone; the School Committee, architects and construction crews who worked on the project, and all the donors — families, businesses and individuals — whose generous gifts contributed to its successful completion.

The outcome is a new, state-of-the-art facility, built to serve students now and for many years to come.

Like the high school building and other upgrades that forming a regional school district helped to make possible, the new field complex, named for former Ayer Superintendent Harold Norton, completes a circuit with enhanced programs and opportunities for students, from academics to athletics.

Among the features and fixtures the new complex contains — but the old one did not — it’s handicapped-accessible, per ADA requirements, from the bleachers to the press box, which is also new.

Other value-added features include the concession stand/field house, with bathrooms.

The entryway boasts an archway and a plaza with benches. Some paving stones are engraved with donors’ names and messages, part of an ongoing fundraiser that can help pay for maintenance.

The thank-you list also included volunteers who stumped for the cause, when the project  was still a plan on a movable drawing board and needed support from both member towns to move forward.

One of those volunteers was Sam Oestreicher. Speaking as a “student ambassador,” he said he was 12-years-old when he got involved in the fields project, holding a sign and hoping for the best.

“This is more than due,” Oestreicher said, as he stood at an outdoor podium at twilight, facing the new bleachers, fronted by the new running track and with the new football field stretched out behind him.

A student athlete who hosts an in-house sports show he described as an “Ayer Shirley ESPN,” Oestreicher said the completed fields project has been a hot topic among his peers for some time, from its anticipated start to work in progress to the wrap-up, with the football field finally ready for use.

The Ayer Shirley Panthers football team hosted a team from Narragansett High after the ceremony.

A highlight of the pre-game evening came when Robert Norton took the podium. A key project donor and member of the Fields Committee, he is the son of the late Harold Norton, whose name appears on the archway banner and whose history is sketched on a nearby plaque.

Norton’s speech was laced with a compelling mix of pride, humor and nostalgia.

“It’s humbling to be here … with my dad’s name all over the place,” he said, noting several family members there with him, including his wife. “He’s here” too, Norton said of his father, who was born in a small town in rural Maine to a family of “modest” means whose living came from railroad work.

A good student and athlete, Harold Norton was valedictorian of his small high school class. He graduated at 16. Too young for college, he attended a nearby prep school, hitchhiking there each day. From there, he tapped his athletic talent to get into Bates College, majoring in chemistry.

His dad married and started teaching in New Hampshire during the prohibition era, Norton continued. He then moved on to a job as principal in Burlington, Massachusetts, where his son, Robert Norton, was born.

When Harold Norton was recruited by the Ayer/Devens school district as principal, the family moved to Ayer. “We rented a house on Washington Street,” Norton recalled. It’s still there, he added.

“This area was a poor farm,” he said. Donated to the town by the wealthy landowner, “Mr. Page,” schools were then built on the property, Norton said, including the Page and Hilltop schools (now connected as Page-Hilltop Elementary School) and the high school Robert Norton attended.

“This place became a major construction zone,” he said. In a way, the trend has continued. At some point the new regional high school took shape on the site of Ayer’s old high school. Now comes this “spectacular” facility. “My dad would be very proud … at this moment.” Norton said.

Norton praised the “thriving relationship” between the towns of Ayer and Shirley and the “sense of unity” the regional school district represents. “Why did we support this project?” he asked. It was a rhetorical question. The answer, for Norton and his wife, was “to do some good back home,” he said.

Norton noted how former Superintendent Mary Malone helped them find a focus for their contributions, first with funding for a literacy program, and “now this,” he said.

The program ended with a lively rendition of “Sweet Caroline” by the Ayer Shirley High School Marching Band.

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